Humboldt County Sheriff's Department,

Drug Task Force Crew Parks Illegally for Lunch, Goes Ballistic on Tow Truck Driver

Drug Task Force Crew Parks Illegally for Lunch, Goes Ballistic on Tow Truck Driver; Disciplinary Action and Probable Lawsuit Ensues

Hank Sims / January 18, 2012 @ 4:23 p.m.

On Feb. 22 of last year, six police agents working with the Humboldt County Drug Task Force went to lunch at Eureka’s Pho Thien Long restaurant. One of them parked illegally in a private lot. When a tow truck driver came to haul the vehicle away, the DTF agents rose from their lunch and rushed to stop him.

Agent Kevin Stonebarger of the Arcata Police Department assumed leadership of the situation, according to testimony collected later in a confidential APD internal investigation. He quickly antagonized both the tow truck operator and the owner of the private lot.

Assuming what another agent described as a “command presence,” he threatened to arrest one or both of the men while at the same time refusing to provide any police credentials apart from a quick flash of a badge. He shouted at the tow truck driver, or merely “spoke loudly,” depending on whose testimony you trust — in any case, enough to draw the attention of passers-by.

According to the tow truck operator — Leroy Hoffman, owner of Humboldt Towing — he asked Stonebarger to calm down and lower his voice. Stonebarger accused him — sarcastically, presumably — if he was making fun of his hearing disability. (He has no such documented disability.) Stonebarger threatened the owner of the lot — Kevin Sweet of Partrick’s Candy — with jail, because Sweet pulled out his phone and started recording the incident.